Liberals back government, election averted

Wed Jun 17, 2009 2:31pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal Party agreed on Wednesday to back the minority Conservative government in a crucial confidence vote on Friday, averting the threat of the summer election that both parties said nobody wanted.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stepped back from the brink of an election after Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to set up a joint panel to develop proposals to reform eligibility for jobless benefits.

It showed sudden willingness on the part of both men to cooperate and compromise to try to reduce the inherent instability of a minority Parliament.

"The breakthrough we actually have is the willingness of the government and the official opposition to work together on an important public policy matter," Harper said, pledging to act in good faith with the Liberals.

Canada last went to the polls in October and has had three minority governments since 2004, with the constant threat of another election if opposition parties all vote against the government in Parliament.

Ignatieff will now back government budgetary measures on Friday. Given that the two other opposition parties have promised to oppose them, a Liberal vote against would have forced a fourth election in little more than five years.

Ignatieff threatened on Monday to vote against the budgetary estimates, but he talked with Harper twice on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday about issues that included budget deficits, stimulus spending and a shortage of isotopes for medical tests.

The biggest sticking point was his demand to make it easier for Canadians to collect Employment Insurance benefits.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses while speaking during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 17, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>